Digital Giant Ally Bank Smacks Branch-Loving Rivals With New Ads

Playing off the fictional 'National Online Bank Day,' the branchless bank takes its fight to competitors, attacking their poor service and lousy rates while rolling out a new cashback rewards program.

Did you miss “National Online Bank Day” on October 8th?

Of course you did. That’s because your financial institution was closed for Columbus Day.

And that’s the point.

Ally Bank celebrated this faux national holiday — its own creation — by touting how its services are still available on a day that many banks are traditionally closed. But that was just a prequel, a teaser to a new campaign attacking large banks’ low deposit interest rates and offering better ones for a limited time. That promotion, part of a wider campaign under Ally’s “Do It Right theme, will be rolling throughout the fall.

Ally, which prides itself on being all-digital, took the unusual step of running full-page ads in traditional print newspapers. The ads tap into consumer frustration with their current bank.

The headline reads: “Your bank makes you #@!*…”

“You said it, not us,” the ad copy begins. “You say it to your friends. You tweet it to the world. You curse it to the heavens. And yet for some reason, you put up with it. Fact is, very few people love their bank. And while it might make sense to sell you something here, we’re not going to. We won’t mention a single product, or bang on about rates.”

The ad advises readers to take advantage of the holiday to look for a better alternative, which is, of course, Ally.

Read More: 25 Digital-Only Banks to Watch

Pushing Consumers to Seek Better Deals

According to the traditional rules of detente, financial marketers tacitly agree that they shouldn’t throw rocks at each other. But Andrea Brimmer, Chief Marketing Office and Chief Public Relations Officer at Ally, says that wasn’t really the idea behind the bank’s “Letter to America” ad.

“The insight was borne out of what we were seeing in consumer behavior and consumer media,” says Brimmer. The online bank day ads were meant to tap into consumer dissatisfaction, she explains.

That might seem like splitting hairs to some, but Brimmer explains that “it really wasn’t meant to be a poke in the eye for anybody, but to acknowledge what’s happening in the culture right now.”

The timing of Ally’s open letter to America is matched by a video full of clips of old-time teller lines, including some from vintage cartoons, and other scenes depicting old ways of doing banking. The video’s voiceover talks about the many years consumers have had to settle for low returns on their money.

A supportive Ally blog gave four more reasons to “break up with your current bank” beyond just poor rates, including old tech, bad customer service, high fees, and inadequate cybersecurity. Each is followed by a “Do It Right” comeback.

Other digitally-driven institutions have jumped aboard the concept. On Twitter, for example, both banks and credit unions, as well as some other online banks, used the hashtag #NationalOnlineBankDay or #onlinebankday. One went so far as to quote The Financial Brand Co-Publisher Jim Marous on the importance of being able to offer seamless digital offerings.

Read More: Five Surprising Traits of Digital Banking Winners

Targeting Consumers by Attitude, Not Age

“We like to do things outside of traditional media channels,” Brimmer beams.

About their marketing strategy, she says Ally strives not to reach specific demographics, but instead target consumers using psychographics — how people think.

Ally uses two primary criteria when targeting its marketing messages. Brimmer says the bank is after people they describe as “the money mindful” — people specifically focused on savings — who are also digital banking users (obviously).

Brimmer believes many financial institutions leave a lot of potential on the table by focusing on demographics versus psychographics.

Not that demographics are completely irrelevant to Ally’s marketing strategy.

“We do have a story of relevance to Millennials,” Brimmer argues. “We’re considered cool among the Millennial set.”

Brimmer thinks a focus on audience behaviors and psychographics also helps economize on advertising costs. Instead of a demographics-driven “spots-and-dots” approach — which often involves purchasing swaths of audiences including many who aren’t a good fit — psychographics can help narrow the target.

Read More: Four Key Strategies To Create a Future-Proof Digital Bank

Driving Messages from Your ‘Golden Gut’

“It’s the marketer’s ‘golden gut’ that helps you decide what you are going to tell consumers.”
— Andrea Brimmer, Ally Financial

“We spend a lot of time up front, getting it right,” Brimmer explains. She prefers this method for plumbing consumer sentiment over traditional mechanisms like focus groups.

“I’m not a big believer in pre-testing your message,” says Brimmer.

Too much consumer input prior to launching a message can render it bland — or, as Brimmer puts it, “taking the saw-toothed edges off your campaign.”

Using data to be sure that you’ll be putting a message in front of the appropriate audience is more important than testing what you’ll be saying.

“It’s the marketer’s ‘golden gut’ that helps you decide what you are going to tell them,” says Brimmer. She says adept use of social channels, and monitoring reaction through them, enables shifting or amending on the fly, which increases a financial advertiser’s agility.

“That’s the beauty of social,” she explains.

Brimmer has also grown to be a big believer in digital outdoor. A far cry from traditional static billboards, digital messages can be targeted, changed, and directed for maximum impact. Ally, which is working with three ad agencies for the overall program, had over 100 digital messages developed for this facet of promotion.

One of their ideas calls for Ally to have a two-hour takeover in the newly renovated Fulton Street transit hub in Manhattan — including 50 digital screens, many in a three-story, circular entry hall. Hundreds of thousands travel through the station daily, which serves nine subway lines.

As the “Payback” campaign continues, some of the rollout will use social media channels and online video. Brimmer says Ally will also engage in significant “social listening,” to gauge consumers’ reactions.

The next salvo in Ally Bank’s campaign has been a series of followup print ads, accompanied by email, digital outdoor media, all promoting “It’s payback time.” This is a limited-term 1% cashback offer for new deposits put into an online savings account. The cashback amount can rise as high as $1,000. Part of the message of the campaign is that online banks, having no branch systems, can afford to pay consumers more on their deposits. Another goal, says Brimmer, is to emphasize to prospects that Ally is a brand that people will recommend to others.

Brimmer says the payback campaign is the latest in a series of disruptive efforts launched every couple of quarters to make Ally Bank stand out. For example, in 2016 Ally distributed “Lucky Pennies” in major U.S. cities, each containing a code that the finder could redeem for a $1,000 prize.

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